People have countless reasons for wanting to become non-profit board members. Some are focused on giving back. Others want to receive something in return. Still others want to do both.

Some motivations are highly personal, even emotional, while some are purely rational. Sometimes people make the decision independently after looking for a board position, and sometimes the organization actively recruits them.

Most individuals have well-informed, honorable intentions, and with guidance, they have the potential to have fulfilling board experiences. But occasionally, motivations are misinformed, wholly self-serving, or simply not constructive.

What Are Yours?

It’s absolutely acceptable to be guided by personal motivations.

After all, you’re devoting your own time to this task. Just be sure that personal benefit isn’t the only reason you want to join a board. Your commitment to the mission of the organization must be the primary consideration.

If you’re considering board service, make sure you have the answers you need. Use the board’s culture and structure, as well as the overall health of the organization you’re considering in order to help guide your decision-making process.

Board membership in any organization (profit or non-profit) inevitably comes with a certain degree of stress. Stick-handling your way through competing issues and interests, not to mention the behavioural idiosyncrasies of your fellow board members, requires patience and a thick skin. It’s not for everyone.

Membership Checklist

What follows is a checklist of considerations that typically influence an individual contemplating membership of a non-profit board:

  • You have a specific cause that is important to you and you want to be active in supporting it.
  • You have specific skills that could help an organization stay or become more viable.
  • You want to “give back” and do your civic duty.
  • You’re concerned about your community and want to have a say in its future.
  • You’re concerned about a particular organization and believe you can help turn it around and make it successful again.
  • You want the opportunity to network with like-minded people.
  • You’re retired and want to start a new “career”. Helping a non-profit and serving actively on a board would give you meaningful work with a flexible schedule.
  • You’re new to a community and want to make friends.
  • You want a challenge, and board service is something you have never tried before.

What Kind of Organization Do You Want to Help?

While this may sound like an obvious question, it’s not. It’s generally considered important for any volunteer in an organization to have at least a working knowledge of its aims and expectations.

Determine what kind of an organization you would like to be affiliated with. What mission areas are you interested in?

Would you like to be involved with groups dealing with health, homelessness, hunger, arts, education, environment, religion, or international affairs? The choices are many and varied.

Define Your Scope of Work

You need to define the scope of your interest. Are you interested in neighborhood and other local activities, or would you like to have a national focus?

As a novice board member, you may benefit from starting with a homeowners’ association, a church/religious committee, or a community centre board.

Many national organizations also have local chapters that would allow you to get involved with larger social issues. Also, take advantage of local volunteer centres or look to regional associations of charities to start locating non-profits.

Identifying Candidate Non-Profits

GuideStar, by Candid, is a valuable database that allows you to search non-profit organizations by location, mission area, or directly by name. More than one million organizations are included, along with information about each.

You can also find board vacancies on non-profit job posting sites such as LinkedIn Board Connect, Bridgespan and All for Good.

Reaching Out

After finding an organization that you’d like to get to know better, contact them. Visit the offices. Visit their website. Gather as much information as you can about what they do.

Then once you’re sure of your choice, make an appointment with a board member or the chief executive and indicate your interest in joining their board.

You may be asked to join a committee or volunteer in another capacity before you’re nominated for board service. A willingness to do this will help your chances.

Understand the Expectations

Educate yourself and expect the organization to educate you on the responsibilities and – most particularly – the liabilities of board membership. Boardsource offers some excellent insight on this latter issue.

Make sure you understand the organization’s expectations of its board members, such as fundraising, personal contributions, meeting attendance policy, number of committee assignments and so forth.

If, after all the contacts and information sharing, the board extends an invitation for you to join, you can celebrate your victory. If not, don’t give up, there are many other organizations that could benefit from your service.